Reflections on General Assembly

Most people that I work with at Tidelands Church are new to the Presbyterian Church (USA). Even those who are already Presbyterian members may not have a good understanding of something like General Assembly. This being the case, I have been to thinking about how to give direction to those of you who may be interested in knowing more about some of the recent decisions that took place at General Assembly. I recently ran across the following blog that is helpful because it has many relevant links for further reading as well as a well-written pastoral response: “AN OPEN LETTER TO MY CHURCH…” While I do not share all of the same opinions as Rev. Lindsley there are some points I want to echo:

  • My door is open. (No, I don’t have a literal office door yet, but I would be happy to meet and talk)
  • I’m thankful to be part of denomination that is wrestling with very difficult issues instead of pretending like there is no room for discussion/debate. Whether we like it or not, these issues are not going away and it is better to be talking about how scripture addresses these issues than ignoring the major cultural shifts taking place.
  • If you are unhappy with any of the decisions, take some time. Steve suggested six months, I would suggest at least 12. The reality is that we live in a consumeristic mentality most of the time in our culture and want instant gratification or we “take our business elsewhere.” This is not the model we follow in the Church. We also tend to believe that we as individuals (whether pastors or lay leaders) have it all figured out while others are messed up and/or wrong. Hopefully, like me, you have changed some of your previous views as the result of the Holy Spirit working through scripture and leading you to a more faithful understanding. While I think my current interpretation of scripture is accurate, I would be a fool not to be open to the corrective work of God in my life and to assume that I have “arrived” at a perfect theology. Yes, it is hard to be part of a large group of Christians that often disagree on how to interpret scripture, but it is better than being a lone ranger or sole authority where alternate opinions are stifled.

Oso Landslide


Picture of Oso Landslide

Picture of Oso Landslide

I’ve been amazed at all of the media attention about the Oso landslide in recent days. Not only have I heard reports on regional and national news, but on world news as well (I was amused to hear BBC describe Oso as a “fishing village.”) This is the second time in the last year that this has happened. Last year the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit river collapsed and made headlines. Now it is a disaster on the Stillaguamish river drawing attention – and the tragedy is much worse because many lives have been lost. In both situations I had the surreal feeling of being close and yet so far removed from what was happening.

This one definitely hit close to home! We drive across the Stillaguamish River (“Stilly”) every day when we travel on or off of Camano Island. My boys and I enjoy fishing the Stilly for salmon every fall. Just this December we drove the stretch of highway that is now covered by the landslide on our way to get a Christmas tree. The bridge over the Stilly is the only land access we have to our island, so you can imagine that it was nerve-racking to hear people talking about possible flash flooding and debris damage to bridges downstream from the landslide. For the first 24 hours, whenever we drove over the island bridge we looked anxiously for the river flow to return to normal from the eerily low state it was in after being blocked by the landslide. Fortunately, this danger passed quickly and attention turned to all of those directly hit by the slide debris.

I have already talked to one woman in our church who has family with property destroyed by the landslide. Fortunately, they only use the place as a vacation home and no one was there during the slide. But the death toll continues to mount and the list of missing persons is still large. And yet, it seems a world away from us. We have been told that volunteers are not needed at this point because already there are too many people on scene and professional rescuers (including the National Guard) are doing their work. Money donations are primarily needed at this point (The Red Cross is actively involved). But beyond this it is hard to know how to help for now.

I can’t help but think that this is just the latest story in the media spotlight, and that attention will soon be focused elsewhere. The reality is, that while this disaster is huge for those of us who live in this area (and especially the residents of Darrington who have now lost their primary route to the urban Puget Sound region), soon the news stations will be bored and move on to the next sensation. In my mind, that is when the real help begins.

As I look at the pictures of homes laying wrecked in a mass of mud I can’t help but notice the similarity to the devastation caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the Gulf Coast (though this landslide is on a much, much smaller scale). I took a team down to work with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) roughly one year after the storms hit. At that point the media spotlight had moved on and what was left was simply a lot of work. People were trying to rebuild, trying to get insurance help, and living in small trailers where they once had a spacious home for their family. Businesses were closed and life was hard, but I was proud to see churches stepping up to help so long after others had moved on. I saw something similar in Cedar Rapids, Iowa when I went to work with PDA on flood recovery there after media attention had moved on and winter was setting in on homes still damaged.

That brings me to the main purpose of writing this entry. We live in a culture that has been programmed with a “commercial” mentality. Something grabs our attention for awhile, but then we become bored and want the next thing. Don’t bore us with details – just say it and move on! But this is not who the church is called to be. It is great that we can mobilize volunteers to go halfway across the country to help when tragedy strikes. It is great that we can raise lots of money to support those affected by disasters. It is good to gather in prayer for those facing loss. But the real work of the church comes when people are engaged in the lives of other people – when Christians live out the gospel so thoroughly that they are willing to commit to people for the long haul rather than look for the “quick fix.”

My sense is that theOso community is rather close-knit, and that there are deeply committed Christians already there and engaged. When, and if, they ask for help that will be the time for the larger church to step up. If that happens, it will likely be afterthe excitement of being a “rescuer” has passed, after national attention has turned elsewhere. Being a “first responder” might be a great adrenaline rush and might make us feel better about something that is ultimately out of our control, but being a “second responder”  – out of the spotlight, pushing away the long-dried mud,listening to the grief of those still struggling with loss, speaking words of hope and doing deeds of love – that is the work of God’s church!


A sign of life in the form of a raised garden bed – Pearlington, Mississippi post-Katrina/Rita.


A Growing Church is a Dying Church

I find this post powerful and thought-provoking even though I am not engaged in a traditional pastoral “call” and Tidelands isn’t even close to an established congregation. Nevertheless, there are two truths here, that we already know, but I find very powerful because we need to keep reminding ourselves of them as we wrestle with change: 1. Our Savior is Jesus (not the pastor, the budget, the programs, the building etc., etc.) 2. Following Jesus leads to the cross.

Hopping Hadrian's Wall

Whenever a congregation goes looking for a new pastor, the first question on their minds when the committee interviews a new candidate is: Will this pastor grow our church?

I’m going to go ahead and answer that question right now: No, she will not.

No amount of pastoral eloquence, organization, insightfulness, amicability, or charisma will take your congregation back to back to its glory days.

What then can your pastor do?  She can make your board meetings longer with prayer and Bible study.  She can mess with your sense of familiarity by changing the order of worship and the arrangement of the sanctuary.  She can play those strange new songs and forget about your favorite old hymns.  She can keep on playing those crusty old hymns instead of that hot new contemporary praise music.  She can bug you incessantly about more frequent celebration of Communion.  She can ignore your phone…

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Abraham’s Family Tree


We are in the middle of a message series at our Sunday worship gatherings on “Family.” We are taking a look at the family of Abraham and the covenant made by God as recorded in Genesis. This is a way for us to think about what it means to be called into a church community (family) today. Specifically, we have been paying attention to God’s purpose in establishing a covenant with Abraham and his descendants: That they would be a “blessing to all the nations.” We see this in the original call to Abraham and repeated numerous times afterward to various people. Here is a graphic that I borrowed as an illustration this past Sunday. Some people asked if I would post it here for reference. It can be found on “The Bible as it Is” blog.

Abraham's Family Tree

Here we go!



Our family just returned from a wonderful two weeks of vacation! I have to say that I don’t ever remember feeling the need for a vacation quite as much as I did this summer. It has been a joyful, exciting, yet very tiring past year of our life. Last summer we were so busy trying to renovate our home on Camano Island and make the move from Marysville that we didn’t get much of a break. We had a great one week break for Spring Break, but sometimes it just takes me a bit longer to truly settle down and relax. So now we are back home and ready to launch into the fall. Kristina is already back to work (she’s a teacher) and the kids will start school next week. I start coaching fall soccer today.

Since I’m also busy writing updates for newsletter, council meetings, social media, etc., I’m  going to share one of those here that may be a repeat of some information but will give people a big picture view of where we are with Tidelands. Here it is:

Summer2013What a wonderful summer it has been to be living on Camano Island and starting a new worshipping community in Stanwood! Our first missional community (meeting on Camano Island) learned a bit more about “rhythm” together as we moved through our first summer of vacations, busy weekends, and late summer nights. With school out, it was more challenging to stay in touch with other families and bless the local school, so we took advantage of the location and weather and invited them to the beach! We built up some great relationships around the barbecue and campfire that we continue to pray about and will build upon this fall. In addition, we helped the PTA pressure wash and repaint the local elementary school playground and added a colorful USA map. Soon we will be helping re-launch the Watch D.O.G.S. program at the school.

This fall a couple of our MC members will be coaching soccer in Stanwood (and many of our kids will be playing on teams). We see this as yet another opportunity to meet and bless those that do not yet know the power of the Gospel. Looking forward, we are still hoping that we can help launch a “backpack” program in partnership with the Stanwood food bank that will allow elementary school kids in “food insecure” situations could take food home for the weekend. Keep in mind that all of this and more is happening through our first missional community. Our long-term plan is to have MC’s all over the Stanwood/Camano Island area blessing their neighborhoods in the name of Jesus!

Our Sunday morning worship gatherings have undergone quite a change over the summer. We ended up moving our worship to the Stanwood Community and Senior Center (on the hill above Stanwood High School). It is the historic Lincoln School Building. The facility has a welcoming staff and plenty of room for future growth in attendance. Also, our children now have a separate room to go during the preaching time. Heidi Adams has stepped up to coordinate this for us. It is little things like this that mean a lot when you are small and starting out!

Our relationship with the Stanwood Community and Senior Center is already becoming a great partnership and service opportunity for us! We discovered that there are a number of seniors living in the apartments attached to the Center that can no longer easily get out for worship on Sunday. They have readily joined us and are now an active part of our fellowship! These seniors weren’t exactly on our radar screen when we identified one of our target groups as those that “can’t “ make it to worship on Sunday (we were thinking more along the lines of those who had to work on Sunday), but they were certainly on God’s radar and the Holy Spirit has led us to them! What a blessing for us! Soon we will be repainting part of the entryway of the Senior Center at the request of the Center staff.

Our worship is still meeting every week and we are seeing slow but steady growth in our attendance. However, we continually remind ourselves that this cannot be the primary measure of our success or faithfulness in what God has called us to do. I pray every day that we will experience our first adult baptism. Please join us in that prayer as well as praying that God will lead other mature Christian leaders to help us in these early stages of development. I am especially hoping and praying for a worship team coordinator and administrative help.

We put off looking for an office during the summer as we made the transition into the Senior Center for worship, but we will be back at it this fall. We hope to find a small location in Stanwood that will give us a more permanent presence in the community.

Thank you all so much for your continual prayers and support!

Life Happens!

Hospital SignI apologize for allowing so much time to pass between posts. Things are progressing well with Tidelands, and I am certainly keeping busy, but life has also been making the road a bit tough. I share the following, not by way of complaint or whining, but as a way to continue reflecting on this process of church planting with the hope that it will benefit and encourage others (but if, after reading, you want to give me a virtual pat on the back along with an “Aaaaw, poor boy!” – I’ll understand).

Roughly five weeks ago we made the shift to the Stanwood Community and Senior Center for our Sunday morning worship gatherings. It has been an answer to prayer for us, even if it wasn’t the ideal office/worship space combination that we were hoping for (more on that in a later post). About the same time I received word that my 95 year-old Grandmother had just been hospitalized after a fall and was having a surgery. Since that phone call I have spent many hours in four different hospitals in Oregon and Washington with family members having surgery. Here’s the story:

My Grandma (an amazing woman of deep faith that personally played a big role in leading many people to Christ) has been living on her own. She had a bad fall and broke a hip requiring surgery. I had the opportunity to talk and pray with her while she was still in the hospital. Not long after my visit, the family and my grandma elected not to pursue further surgeries knowing that her body could only take so much. She was then moved to a hospice facility where she passed away. My wife and kids made the trip back down with me to Oregon for the funeral. It was a beautiful, faith-filled service.

Earlier this summer my wife re-injured her knee while training for a race (I often preach that running is crazy and idiotic but nobody listens!). She had surgery on her ACL in high school after a soccer injury and it is finally catching up with her. Her surgery a week ago was a quick, in-and-out surgery and everything seems to have gone well. But having two young boys out of school for the summer and a wife stuck in a chair does not lend itself to productivity as far as work goes. She is recovering well, and doing much more than she probably should be already, but we had to put some vacation plans on hold until we know how everything turns out.

Finally, my 10 year-old niece (brother’s daughter) was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy the same day my wife had surgery. This has been the hardest of all. There have been complications and many very scary moments, including being rushed to Seattle Children’s Hospital. My brother and I are very close, and I love my niece to death! It has been very hard seeing both of them in so much pain. Thankfully, she is showing slow signs of recovery, but her hospital stay will likely last awhile. Something like this certainly allows one to see life from a different perspective and to appreciate the gifts that God has given us for today!

I share all of this, because these are all events that I could not foresee or even prepare for as we launched into this church planting endeavor. I am so very thankful that I am doing this work with a team of people, and that we have been very careful about doing everything in a way that allows us to maintain time for rest and play as a family (though it has been a struggle at times). While I feel stressed by all of the things that I am behind on, my faith has been strengthened as I have seen God continuing to work in our midst and giving my family strength. This has simply been one of those periods in my life when I wonder how anyone can make it through without the strength and peace that only comes through a relationship with Jesus, and serves as a reminder of the importance of sharing this Good News – this Gospel – with others.

More reflections to come. In the meantime… back to the hospital.

Summer Shift

summer sandalsWe are entering our first summer with our first missional community and we are beginning to discuss what we want it to look like. There are many opportunities, but there are also challenges because of the rapidly changing weekly schedules due to kids being out of school. This is only compounded by the fact that we live in Western Washington and our summer weather is typically short-lived and sporadic and if the sun comes out poeple want to take advantage of it. I read a great article this week dealing with some of these issues. Here is an excerpt:

Summertime always prompts images of grilling in the backyard, vacation road trips, watching baseball, and adventures in the neighborhood.

In the church, it’s often a season where we “take a break” from ministry and community. I’ve always found that idea somewhat odd when I consider my identity in Christ. I don’t really ever “take a break” for an entire season from my earthly family, so why would I skip out on my spiritual family for three months?

My family rhythm certainly changes in the summer, but it doesn’t disappear entirely. The kids are out of school, and we’re on the go more, but we don’t stop teaching our kids about Jesus and His Word. We certainly don’t cease to be brothers and sisters in Christ with our church family during the summer either.

What if your community continued striving to be a spiritual family this summer, rather than pushing pause?

Read the whole article, including the great suggestions for missional communities in the summer! As we move through the summer we are going to be experimenting with some things. Sometime after the summer I’ll post a follow-up with reflections on our experience.

A New Place to Gather!

Stanwood Community and Senior Center

We have been looking for a new worship gathering location since the beginning of the year – and now we have found it! Beginning this Sunday (June 12, 2013) we will begin gathering for worship at the Stanwood Community and Senior Center! I’ll share more about this place, but first, some background:

As you can see from some of my previous posts, we have experienced some difficulties and learned a lot along the way in our quest for office and worship space. Our hope was that we might find an office space in the community that could also function as a small worship gathering spot until we needed something bigger. All through this process we have been praying that God would lead us to a place that would be more than just a convenient location for worship gatherings, but that the place would also help connect us more with God’s mission in the community. Explained another way: Often times a worship space becomes a building detached from the daily lives of the people in the congregation. Instead, we have been dreaming about a place that would locate us in the community in a way that would help us make connections. And this goal was part of the reason why we ran into trouble with zoning and land use issues since most of these kind of places are in busy commercial/downtown areas.

I have to admit that I was initially reluctant to consider worshipping at a “Senior Center.” I was concerned that this might create more barriers to younger generations (and it might – if we are just talking about getting them to come to worship). However, it quickly became clear to us that the Stanwood Community and Senior Center was a great opportunity! They are under the leadership of a new director, and are focused on being much more outward oriented toward the community (sound familiar?) There is already a private elementary school meeting at the Center, and the Stanwood High School football team is having their team dinners there. In addition, the Center has 85 residents that live there in independent living apartments that help meet the need for low-income senior housing. There is also relatively new low-income family housing next door. The staff is extremely warm, joyful, and welcoming and open to us joining into the many events that happen during the week.

Obviously there are many opportunities for us to serve at the Center – everything from painting to classes to helping with large social events. However, we quickly realized that the best service that we could provide is one that we are already doing – a worship service! Since our primary model for reaching younger families detached from church is through the missional communities, there is absolutely no conflict here! Older generations obviously have a much more positive attitude toward the church (generalizing here) and are much more likely to “come” to a worship service. Obviously, many of the seniors that come to the Center and those that live there are already connected to churches in the community, and we will not be trying to compete for there attendance. But especially for those that have a hard time going very far for worship, we pray that as we go to them it will be a blessing and that they will join our community for worship!

As a side note: The main part of the Stanwood Community and Senior Center building is the historic “Lincoln School” building that sits directly above the current Stanwood High School football field. Since we are a new church, it will be good to have that connection with the history of the community.

Second side note: The earliest worship experiences that I can remember in my life were with the Light and Life Free Methodist Church in Bend, Oregon. We met at the Bend Senior Center which, at the time, was about a block away from my house.

Not In Our Backyard! – The Church and Zoning

pinmapI’m writing this entry in my blog primarily as a resource to those who made read this later while moving through the church planting process. Unlike me, you may already be aware of some of these issues, but I was caught off-guard. I’m referring specifically to my naiveté regarding worship space for our church. I honestly thought that a church could gather for worship pretty much anywhere that they desired, provided that they were willing to pay to lease the location and certain fire/building codes were met. So I was quite surprised to find that there are areas within the city (many in fact), where “houses of worship” are not allowed under the city/county codes. And even in some of the areas where they are allowed there are other conditions that must be met (like minimum size of property) and additional applications that must be submitted and approved. So my advice to others beginning to search for space for their church plant: go and ask the city about this issue specifically and get a map before you begin looking.

I’m learning a lot about this issue, but I admittedly still know very little. I can tell you this: it’s quite complicated and the issue of churches and zoning is dealt with differently in different locations. Stanwood does not allow churches in most of the commercial areas in town. Our vision of having an office and small worship location in a community center with a cafe type atmosphere is looking more and more unlikely. The city explained it to me this way: if we want to lease a place that is being used primarily as something else (like a school/theater/etc.) then we are ok. But if we want to lease a space to be used on Sunday morning for worship and the rest of the week as an office then we fall under the “house of worship” classification and our choices are limited by the current zoning.

There is a federal law that was passed in 2000 often referred to by the acronym RLUIPA (Religous Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act) that prohibits cities from discriminating against religious organizations in their zoning. I did some research and a number of sources say that most cities are probably not in compliance with the law. However, there have also been differing circuit court rulings on the interpretation of the law. The heart of the problem is apparently not so much that cities are anti-church, but rather that they need tax revenue. When a church moves into a commercial or industrial space that city loses the potential tax revenue. When a church purchases a building the city loses the property tax revenue. I understand the dilemma. I also understand the some mega-churches have not been the most welcome neighbors and have not been in well-planned locations.

Whether or not a city is in compliance with the law is probably a matter of debate and would likely require significant legal work to resolve. For us, legal action and fighting is simply not the way forward. We desire to be the best church for the community and to work in partnership with the existing organizations and structures, not to be an adversary. However, it is very frustrating and I believe short-sighted on the part of the city. A healthy church provides so much benefit to the community and neighborhood that go well beyond the issue to taxes and revenue. We dream of being a church that supports work with the homeless, provides tutoring, supports the local schools, and through the power of Christ changes the very lives of families for the better. We want to see crime reduced, marriages healed, children educated, hungry fed, seniors provided with community, etc. – all in the name of Christ. So my hope is that over time we can also be a voice to challenge some of the existing zoning so that more creative models of “church” can be allowed to flourish in the community as it continues to grow.

In the meantime, we are once again back to the drawing board. I’m convinced that we will eventually find the right fit for us, it just may not happen as easily or as quickly as we hoped. And this entire issue convinces me, once again, that the missional community model is an effective way to live as the church in our changing culture. None of these land use issues effect what happens in our home, with 10 – 20 people gathered together for a meal, and strategizing about how to “be the church” in the neighborhood where we live. And nothing is preventing us from having another 10 – 20 groups all doing the same thing!